Michael Tymn on Leonora Piper

I’ve been working on an e-book transcript of Leonora Piper sittings, with a view to making this material more accessible (although it’s probably still a few months away). It’s been on my mind, as a large body of credible research that tends to make sceptic views of mediumship untenable.

So I was delighted to see Michael Tymn’s new book Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife. In principle I’d recommend to open-minded people – those who really do want answers – that they check out the Piper material, but if I haven’t often done so, that’s because there’s no obvious source for them to go to. Thanks to Tymn that’s no longer the case.

I’m also gratified by what a good job he’s done. In other hands the story might well have been told as a conventional biography, covering the whole of psychic research in the context of the thought of the day. In other words, it would have been diluted and hedged about with the sorts of qualifications that tend to make this sort of thing invisible. Tymn’s achievement has been to hammer home a shocking and still largely unknown fact: a human being has lived who was repeatedly observed by scientific investigators to possess supernormal knowledge – and far beyond the ability of pseudo-explanations such as cold reading to account for.

To do this, Tymn has compressed a 25-year programme into 200 pages, focusing closely on the research and its implications. He tells the story chronologically, from Piper’s ‘discovery’ (it seems a maid employed by her husband’s family mentioned her doings to a maid employed by William James’s in-laws); the three main ‘control’ phases: Phinuit, George Pelham and Imperator/Rector; the conversion of SPR investigator Richard Hodgson (who had begun with the expectation of exposing her tricks); the trip to England to hold sittings with Frederic Myers and Oliver Lodge; the later involvement of James Hyslop; and so on……

Copyright©Robert McLuhan

Reproduced courtesy of Robert McLuhan


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